FC: How did you get into bird watching?
CW: Since the age of six, I’ve had a fascination with birds. For a number of years I owned a menagerie of caged birds. I once had a Cockatiel named Luther Perez who liked to talk and frequently said, “I love Luther, I love Luther Perez.” He lived to be 20 years old. After Luther passed, I decided to just enjoy our wild birds and have been bird watching since.
FC: What are some tips for people new to bird watching?
CW: When you’re starting out, get familiar with the birds that are near you; whether it’s your backyard or a local park. Basic equipment you’ll want is a field guide and a pair of binoculars. Note the range maps in the field guide to see which birds should be in the area.
Download a checklist of Florida’s birds: http://floridabirdingtrail.com/index.php/resources/checklist_of_floridas_birds/
Read about a bird’s habitat. If you want to see a Roseate Spoonbill, for example, which is a wading bird, you wouldn’t expect to find it in the forest.
Birds are easily flushed so if you move slowly and remain quiet while you’re looking for birds, you will have better success. Even better, if you have the patience, is find a quiet spot in a park or forest’s edge and just wait. After 15 minutes you will become part of the environment and the birds that may have been spooked when you initially arrived will continue about their business as if you weren’t there.
Time of day also has a bearing on what you might see. Birds are most active in early morning or late afternoon.
Learn to listen. You will frequently hear a bird before you see it. After a bit of practice, you’ll learn the sounds of our most common birds and can wow your friends with your knowledge! There are numerous websites that have bird calls and songs. Cornell’s Allaboutbirds.org is an excellent online resource.
Go on a field trip with a birding group. Our local Audubon chapter, Duval Audubon Society, offers field trips which are led by knowledgeable guides. It’s a great way to connect with others that share the same interests.
Above all, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to learn about birds and we can never learn all there is to know.
FC: What are some common backyard birds?
CW: Probably the backyard bird most are familiar with is the Northern Cardinal with its bright red plumage and reddish-orange beak. In the South it is frequently referred to as a “Redbird.” It’s easy to take this bird for granted since it is so common here, but people come from other parts of the world to see this bird.
Another frequent visitor to our yards is the Carolina Wren, a diminutive brown bird with an uplifted tail and white eye-stripe. The Carolina Wren has a large voice for its size. You’ll hear them singing “teakettle, teakettle” or “teacher, teacher, teacher.” They will build nests in your hanging baskets and other protected areas outside your house. I recently had one nest in a hanging watering can.
If you hear a bird singing “Peter, Peter, Peter,” then it’s a Tufted Titmouse! This little bird has a prominent gray crest and a stark black eye. It is a frequent visitor to sunflower feeders and will take a seed, fly to a nearby branch and peck it open.